It can be an awkward situation for families who pride themselves on being self-sufficient, but get into circumstances where they have to cut back on expenses or apply for financial assistance. Questions come up that one possibly never had to consider before: When is it appropriate to ask for assistance? Who should you seek that help from? And what should you do after getting that help?

Here are some guidelines that my husband and I applied to our experiences as a family on a budget:

  1. If you meet the requirements or rules for an assistance, discount or benefits program, then you are the person that the sponsors intended to help, honor or bless. For example, would you have any hesitation about asking for a AAA membership discount on a hotel booking? So why hesitate about using a benefit such as discounted groceries if your family is eligible for that program?
  2. Do not cheat the system. If through the guidelines or “mouse print,” you learn that you aren’t eligible for or entitled to that service, then leave that resource for whom it was intended. If you are really in need, there will be other opportunities, including some you might not have considered!
  3. Follow all deadlines and provide all requested documentation. If you apply late or don’t follow instructions from the start, the funding for that program or service might be used up by the time your application is complete.
  4. Pay it back by paying it forward. Need-based assistance is not a loan (unless you have a subsidized loan, which is a different situation). Instead, pay that gift back by providing your time, talent or treasure to someone else; or to your benefactor with a favor they need in the future.
  5. Be as responsible with the gifts you receive. What do you think Aunt Mary would appreciate knowing that her money was spent on? Act accordingly. Did your scholarship require you to maintain a certain grade point average? Then put forth the effort in class.
  6. Be responsible with your other resources. Few people will care that you have a couple of “frivolous” things when they know you’re managing the rest of your money wisely. But people will notice, and not too kindly, if your overall lifestyle is beyond your means or downright wasteful.
  7. If you don’t have a use for a product or service, decline the offer or bless someone else with it. I was offered a piece of artwork, and also asked for two bookcases, from a relative’s estate. But I have no need for the coffee table or recliner from that home. Someone else can enjoy them.
  8. Don’t be greedy with your hoped-for family fortunes. The prodigal son of Biblical lore erred when he asked for his inheritance before he was eligible to receive it, in addition to what he did with the money afterward. If older relatives spend their fortunes before they die, or leave money to someone other than my husband and I, so be it. It’s their money, and they can decide what to do with it.
  9. Thank people who assist or bless you. Whether by handwritten note, phone call, handshake or e-mail, show your appreciation to the caseworker who helped you navigate the red tape, the committee who approved a grant application or the co-worker who provided hand-me-downs you find useful.
  10. Share tips and information with people who find your experiences or knowledge helpful to their situation. Monroe on a Budget is an obvious example (!) but other local residents are contributing their expertise to the Monroe County resource base – including Julie at Julie’s List, my Internet neighbors at BlogsMonroe, and the staff at United Way’s 211.

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